Does Constituency Size Affect Elected Officials' Trade Policy Preferences?


David Karol is assistant professor of political science, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.


Scholars have long argued that Presidents are less protectionist than Congress while Senators are less so than Representatives due to their larger constituencies. Yet until now this theory has escaped scrutiny. I argue that it is based on a misguided view of trade policy as distributive politics. I show via a series of tests that the theory is untenable. Unlike their differences in constituency size, the pro-trade leanings of the Presidency and Senate are postwar phenomena. Even now state size is unrelated to Senators’ votes on trade. In tests pooling legislators from both Houses, chamber membership predicts votes while constituency size generally does not. Senators are even less protectionist than Representatives with identical constituencies.